WonderActivist – Jessica Oreck

A Year with the Aatsinkis: meditations of yesterday for tomorrow

carolCarol Devine

Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys is Jessica Oreck’s latest film. The title was an immediate draw for me, both mysterious and familiar. Jessica’s thought-provoking and contemplative documentary illustrates the rhythms and challenges of reindeer herders in northern Finland today. It follows one family, has little dialogue and is a visually stunning, intimate window into a little-known, precious and changing world of reindeer herding and now also Arctic adventure tourism.


Jessica Oreck, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (2009)

Jessica has a special interest in natural sciences and ethnobiology and is also an animal keeper at the American Museum of Natural History.

She describes Aatsinki as “part rugged cowboy adventure, part environmental study, and 100% a love letter to this family’s way of life.” The film poses questions about identity, food production, technology, predator management, humans in nature and more.

Aatsinki meditates on a way of life that is modern, ancient and in peril at once. It is a unique beautiful story but also a universal one of interdependence with land and animals that fewer of us in urban centres are honoured to know so deeply.

Where do you live, where were you born?

I am based in NY, born in Louisiana, but don’t think of any one place as home. I guess ‘home’ is just where the next project takes me.

Tell me one of your key goals in life?

To instill wonder – in myself and in others – about just about anything.

You lived for one year in the community with brothers Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki and their families in a small town called Salla in Finnish Lapland above the Arctic Circle. What was your favourite part of filming Aatsinki?

Impossible to pick just one part – it was an incredible year. I think I will treasure my friendship with the family for my lifetime. But I also learned so much about living life with intention – that’s a lesson I never want to unlearn.

large_aatsinki_2You contribute to an important discussion and exploration of climate, culture and adaptation. How did filming it shape your vision on culture, nature and the future in our changing world?

I wanted [the film] to function as an immersive, atmospheric experience that would open audiences up to viewpoints they might otherwise not consider. While making the film, I was able to see first hand just how complicated the issues facing the herders are (like climate change and adaptation), so Rachael Teel and I wrote an online interactive companion to the film that addresses a lot of said issues. The interactive allows the film to stay intact in the way I originally envisioned it, and it gets into the nitty-gritty of some of the impossibly large problems that the herders face. You can see the interactive here:


Here are some excerpts from the Aatsinki interactive :

The Coming of Summer: the Circumstances

The summer round up is exhausting but incredibly exhilarating. None of the reindeer have their antlers yet and the calves are adorably small so it’s safe in the ring. You call your daughters close and teach them to catch calves. They watch as you cut the ears of their first calves with each girl’s very own ear mark. You wonder what the future will hold for them.

The Coming of Winter: the Circumstances

Your family has been working on this land for six generations so you and the other herders know better than anyone what to expect. But this winter is different. This year has been warm; record breaking warm and it’s killing your reindeer … in normal years your reindeer survive by digging through the snow to eat the so-called reindeer moss beneath. Warm days make you nervous. If the top layer of snow melts during the day it will freeze into ice that coming night sealing the moss beyond the reindeers’ reach and a layer of ice could spell disaster for your herd.

The film appears at first a masculine story. But Raisa, Aarne’s wife also herds reindeer and appears to co-run the business and their small girls help too. What did you learn about women in this herding cooperative, their roles and work?

It was complicated. The women most certainly play a large role in almost every aspect of the herders’ work. But it is still a predominantly male-driven business, both in the ratio of male/female herders and, I think, in the way that women are regarded.

Aatsinki film titleDid you have a favourite reindeer?

I suppose I would have to say the calf that I ‘helped’ train in the spring. I think the herders just wanted to give me something to do, but I really enjoyed working with that little guy.

Raisa and Aarne came to NYC recently for the Tribeca Film Festival – a long way from the Arctic. What did their visit and cultural experience on this side of the world impress upon you?

Ha! It was amazing how in stride they took everything. It made me realize just how globalization and infinite access to media and television have normalized almost every experience.

What can regular people do to care for the planet and one another?

I think remembering where we came from and how we fit into this complex and delicately balanced world is critical to getting people in large numbers to be aware of their habits and create widespread change.

What rules to live by would you give young women artists, filmmakers and activists?

Fall in love with everything you do.

Carol Devine – Activism + Culture
Carol is a Canadian writer, researcher and humanitarian with insatiable wanderlust. For Doctors Without Borders she defended humanitarian principles in Rwanda, Sudan and East Timor. For the Diplomacy Training Program, University of New South Wales, she co-trained Aboriginal, Tibetan and Burmese youth. Carol also led the first Antarctic civilian volunteer ecological expedition. Carol is currently trying meditation, to learn more physics and get back on her skateboard. Carol can be contacted at: www.theantarcticbookofcookingandcleaning.com
Life Balance = Run. Explore. Laugh